The Chautauqua Region Community Foundation is honored to announce John Fuchs, of Jamestown, as the 2020 Axel W. Carlson Unsung Hero Award recipient.
Making Spirits Bright
Growing up in Holly, Michigan, Christmas was always a special time of year for John Fuchs. He fondly recalls spending time hanging garland and lights around the windows of their family home.
“When I was about 7 or 8, my dad and I built my first lighted Christmas display,” he said. “It consisted of a Santa, sleigh and Rudolph, complete with a blinking red light for the nose.”
Since 2014, Fuchs, a retired engineer, has transformed his home at 629 Winsor Street in Jamestown into Lights on Winsor, an intricate light show that synchronizes with music played on 104.9 FM.
“When we first moved into the house in 1974, my wife and I did luminaria the first few years,” Fuchs said. “Then little by little, more lights started to appear. First on the bushes, then on the front of the house in tree shapes. Eventually, the whole front of the house was covered.”
Today, Fuchs estimates his display has about 10,000 individual lights that he has transformed into snowflakes, bells, trees and, most recently, a manger scene.
“It takes about two days to place the shapes and effects, and another one to two days for the wiring,” Fuchs said. “A two-and-a-half-minute song takes about another week to program. Then it is all tested and prepared to run.”
And while in his seventies, Fuchs generally does all of the programing and installation himself, he has had help over the years. His wife, Margie, continues to offer her full support, local artist Gary Peters Jr. created the manger scene and Brandon Caruso, Guest Experience Researcher and Developer at the National Comedy Center, has programmed several songs and displays.
This year, when it looked like the annual show might not happen, his son, Christopher, drove up from Maryland to help and together, they got it done just in time.
“It truly has been a labor of love,” he said.
Recently, the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation announced Fuchs as its 2020 Axel W. Carlson Unsung Hero Award recipient.
“What makes this award so special is that it is designed to recognize those that make an impact in their community, while flying under the radar,” said Bob Young Jr., Axel W. Carlson Award Selection Committee chair. “What John does for the community, year after year, brings an incredible amount of joy to everyone who passes by. And now, more than ever, that is something to celebrate.”
Besides his holiday light show, Fuchs been quietly serving his community for decades.
According to Tom Andolora, who nominated Fuchs for the award, Fuchs was an integral member of The Shoestring Players, a local theatre organization known for their musical productions. Founded by Richard Corbin in the 1970s as an opportunity for local youth to dabble in the arts, The Shoestring Players performed at the Consistory, today known as the Carl Cappa Theatre at The Robert H. Jackson Center, for nearly two decades.
“I have known John since I was 15 years old, when we worked together on musicals for Shoestring Players” Andolora wrote in his nomination. “His true gift to the city is his unselfish gift of turning a visit to his home as a holiday destination and tradition in Jamestown.”
In addition to providing lighting and technical support for each production with The Shoestring Players, Fuchs also served as the organization’s treasurer for several years.
Following the natural end of The Shoestring Players, Fuchs continued volunteering his time to many community organizations, building websites, offering videography services and providing technical support when needed. Fuchs even offered his engineering expertise when a local family needed help recreating their father’s holiday light display after his death. Recently, Fuchs retired as treasurer of the Board of Directors at the Jamestown Concert Association.
In addition to sharing those messages with Fuchs, the Foundation will also send Fuchs a $1,000 award for himself, as well as, make a $500 donation to a charity of his choice in his honor.
Due to his and Margie’s experience ringing the bell for the Red Kettle Campaign, Fuchs selected The Salvation Army to receive the donation.
“This time of year, they are in the same business we are, which is simply making people happy,” Fuchs said.
*The Community Foundation was sad to learn of John’s passing in January 2021.